Long live soccer!

A common prejudice about soccer players is that they are not real athletes and earn way too much money for what they actually do. Furthermore it is said that the training is of low quality. While we still competed regularly as age group triathletes many years ago, we often had the same thought: the training of a soccer player doesn’t seem nearly as sophisticated and strenuous as the training of “real” athletes like triathletes, cyclists, swimmers, etc. However, we were wrong with both complaints – about their training and their salary – and we want to explain why.

Compared to endurance sports like running or cycling soccer is a very complex sport. A soccer player needs many different skills all of which have to be developed to a very high level: endurance, speed, agility, technical skills, tactical skills and mental skills amongst others. But it doesn’t stop there. If you zoom into one of those requirements like the technical skills, there are many subcomponents like receiving and passing. This complexity of the requirements of soccer has to be reflected in the training, which makes it much less straightforward than e.g. in cycling or running. As a soccer player you have to practice your skills, become stronger and faster and improve your stamina. These partially conflicting requirements create the impression that training in soccer is somehow chaotic and not well thought out. Although you can always find things which can be improved in a training plan, it’s in the very nature of team sports that training looks less structured compared to individual sports.

Furthermore during the development of a youth soccer player the mental and emotional load is high, because compared to other athletes of the same age category a lot of money is involved. The selection process and the intensity of competition are tough, because soccer is one of the most popular sports in the world and therefore a lot of kids want to become professional soccer players.

Finally the notion of soccer players earning too much money for what they do cannot be justified, once you understand that their salary is the result of the voluntary financial contributions of the people who go to the stadium or watch the game on TV. If a person pays for a soccer match, then to him the pleasure he derives from the match is worth more than the money he has to give away. Thus the more people a soccer player makes happy, the more he earns and deserves. On the other hand for an athlete who claims an amount of money from a government supported federation to support his living, it is not clear if he deserves it in these terms. What you deserve is not determined by how hard you train or what level you have in your sport, but by the number of people who enjoy watching this sport and the amount of money they are willing to pay for this enjoyment.

We encourage everybody to train and live like a professional soccer player for a week and then reconsider any prejudice against training in soccer. Moreover, there are many lessons to be learned from soccer for individual sports and vice versa. This is a very interesting subject which we will explore in future articles.


Ruben Jongkind & Florian Kugler, March 3rd, 2011

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